In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Baba Padmanji

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Padmanji’s Autobiographical Style
  • Contributing to Modernity

Hinduism Baba Padmanji
Deepra Dandekar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0244


Baba Padmanji Mulay (b. 1831–d. 1906) was a pioneer of Christian reform in 19th-century India. Originally from an elite, conservative Hindu family in Belgaum, Padmanji converted to Christianity in September 1854, later describing his conversion as a product of missionary education in Bombay and his disappointment with intellectual Hindu reform groups such as the Paramhans Mandali. Padmanji was primarily interested in Christian feminist reform, since he considered Hindu women’s debased condition to be primarily linked to heinous Brahminical practices. Padmanji was from the tvasta kasar caste of braziers, an influential, well-networked, and affluent caste on the Konkan coast of Bombay Presidency. His family enjoyed traditional privileges of serving under the Peshwas, and later under the colonial government. Padmanji was a British supporter and was convinced that missionary control would prove a catalyst for Christian revolution in India, transforming every Indian into a Christian. Padmanji married multiple times, and his divorce from his first, Hindu wife in 1857 had a lasting impact on him. A pioneer of Christian feminism, Padmanji argued ferociously against residual courtly culture, which he considered decadent, including dance performances such as lavni and its more rural counterpart tamasa, while criticizing Hindus for simultaneously promoting child marriage and the sexual abuse of widows. His strongly Protestant and rather masculine perspective later led him into angry confrontation with Hindu reform groups such as the Prarthana Samaj, since he denounced their pragmatism as fake and accused them of covertly fostering Brahminism, under the pretext of “religious freedom.” Padmanji was extremely prolific, authoring more than a hundred Marathi texts even running his own printing press (Victoria Press) in Bombay. His intellectual contributions ranged from autobiographical texts to biblical and other translations, Christian fiction, polemics, didactics, and Marathi language guides that he hoped would promote vernacular Bible reading and Christian texts. Padmanji is credited for writing the first vernacular novel in India in 1857 that championed the cause of widow remarriage and conversion. Serving as an ordained pastor at the Free Church in Pune for a time, Padmanji later turned full time to writing and retired as the head of the Bombay Vernacular Books Society, and as editor of numerous Christian journals and institutions. He passed away in 1906 and is buried at the Sewri Christian Cemetery in Mumbai.

General Overviews

There is comparatively little scholarship about Padmanji, given the importance of his contribution to modern Christian intellectual thought and Marathi literature. Since all of Padmanji’s writings are in the vernacular—Marathi, historians of Indian literature and social reform have primarily depended on the available translation of his autobiography, a translation ratified by him in 1890. Padmanji and his approved social network of interpreters/translators have therefore continued to exert control over later-day scholarship on him. His autobiographical tracts are only the iceberg’s tip to the scores of other polemic, didactic, ideological, reformist, and fictional texts Padmanji authored, apart from his translations of numerous missionary, polemical tracts. Padmanji’s relentless efforts at writing, translating, and producing a corpus of Marathi Christian texts inaugurated a fresh vernacular literary genre in 19th-century Bombay Presidency that combined literary writing (prose, both polemic and didactic, as well as poetry) with Protestant Christian reformist concerns. Since it has become almost “natural” for scholarship on Padmanji to be divided on vernacular lines, with those unable to read his works focusing solely on his translated autobiographical tracts, historians motivated by Hindu reform, especially the Prarthana Samaj, have also tended to ignore Padmanji as a masculinist, bigoted detractor of Hinduism. On the other hand, though scholars of Marathi literature have evaluated Padmanji’s writings more positively for its realism, they have ignored his Christian reform agenda, which was central to his texts. Apart from descriptive sections, and the overview provided in Neill 1985 in particular, Kotani 1999 describes Padmanji’s contributions in more detail in English. However, an exemplary scholarly Marathi biography of Padmanji already existed, written by Kesav Sitaram Karhadkar (Karhadkar 1979). English scholarship on Padmanji, more recently, has been conducted in Dandekar 2021, which emphasizes Padmanji’s contributions to modernity, already preliminarily discussed in Dandekar 2019.

  • Dandekar, Deepra. The Subhedar’s Son: A Narrative of Brahmin-Christian Conversion from Nineteenth-Century India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190914042.001.0001

    Though this is a translation of a Marathi conversion narrative, all the introductory chapters of this translation analyze Padmanji’s contribution to the Christian style of modern vernacular writing in 19th-century Bombay Presidency.

  • Dandekar, Deepra. Baba Padmanji: Vernacular Christianity in Colonial India. London and New York: Routledge, 2021.

    Dandekar examines Padmanji’s literary and Christian reform contributions in light of his intellectual, social, and personal life influences, which began with his education and culminated in his religious conversion and divorce.

  • Karhadkar, Kesav Sitaram. Bābā Padmanjī: Kāḷ va Kartṛtva. Mumbai: Maharastra Rajya Sahitya Samskrti Mandal, 1979.

    Translates as “Baba Padmanji: Life and achievements.” Karhadkar has produced a unique and comprehensive monograph describing Padmanji’s literary contributions. The book furthermore includes valuable private correspondence, personal data, and photographs. This work was originally a doctoral dissertation, and Karhadkar has conducted his research in collaboration with Padmanji’s family, revealing many minute details about the latter.

  • Kotani, Hiroyuki. “The Passage from Hinduism to Christianity: The Case of Baba Padmanji.” In Writers, Editors and Reformers: Social and Political Transformations of Maharashtra, 1830–1930. Edited by N. K. Wagle, 173–180. New Delhi: Manohar, 1999.

    Kotani classifies Padmanji’s writings into three phases, assigning Padmanji’s writings before his conversion to the first phase, called “Boyhood to August 1849,” followed by “The Search for Truth, August 1849–December 1852,” which discussed “Hindu Social Reform” in an additional section, and finally, “Conversion, 3 September 1854.” Kotani’s methodological contribution proved valuable for binding literary history and intellectual ferment together with social and personal history.

  • Neill, Stephen. Christianity in India, 1707–1858. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511520563

    This widely read and influential book contains a brief appreciation of Padmanji against the backdrop of the general history of Christianity in India, on pp. 315 and 349.

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